Topsham Take Vase
Despite the thick fog, it is clear that the Chiefs can compete at a higher level.
Contributed By Richard Belli
There are many factors that can hamper the amateur sports reporter; running the line, fetching balls, even playing. With none of these distractions in place it was still difficult to give an accurate account of certain passages of this absorbing Devon Junior Vase Final. That is because the fog, which had enveloped Plymouth during the morning, became so dense at times that only the players and the referee must have known exactly what was going on. Indeed the officials did get together during the second half to discuss abandoning the game, but they correctly, in most people's view decided to finish the game.
Bickleigh Down hadn't seen such a large crowd for a competitive encounter for some time. With the PAPPA reunion being held beforehand there were plenty of former players in attendance whilst Topsham also brought a coachful of supporters with them from East Devon. This made for a cracking atmosphere fitting for a cup final.
It was the home side who started brightest with half backs Luke Kenny and Tom Richards bringing out the best in their ball-carrying forwards to make progression down the slope. After several such inroads Argaum created the overlap to allow teenage winger Kal Bloomfield to touch down in the corner. The conversion was missed but Argaum continued to put together some good passages of play.
Topsham regrouped and clawed their way back into the game with a penalty from prolific kicker Ricky Pellow. Argaum have their own points machine in the shape of Paul Ansell, who had 177 points to his name before this match. Being wet underfoot, and with a swirling breeze, the conditions weren't ideal for kicking however and when Argaum were awarded a penalty he pulled it just to the left. Topsham were starting to display their division one pedigree and bringing their three quarters into the game put Argaum on the back foot. A further penalty from Pellow put Topsham into a lead, that they were not to relinquish. James Riley was called upon to deputise for the injured Luke Kenny at scrum half, a task that he undertook with great aplomb. Topsham turned up the heat and it took some brave defending to keep them out so that the score remained 6-5 at half time.
At half time Argaum took the unusual step of changing their shirts to the new orange kit. The choice of colour meant that spectators and officials could at least identify the teams in the increasing gloom. Topsham very quickly latched on to the best way to play down the Argaum slope in the second half. They kicked for territory into the bottom corner and using a well-organised catch and drive they took control of the game. Sam Warren was the first to profit from this move with a try converted by Pellow. Proving that kicking was a little easier in the slightly drier top half of the field, Paul Ansell pulled 3 points back with a penalty. Topsham knew what they had to do to close the game out and after 'going downtown' a catch and drive from a 5 metre lineout brought the inevitable score from Dominic Cant. Proving he was human after all, Pellow missed the conversion.
Now 10 points adrift things were looking as bleak as the weather for the Chiefs but they showed great character in the final quarter. The energy levels picked up with a raft of substitutions and Topsham were being put under pressure again. This lead to another penalty for Ansell and a grandstand finish. Argaum grew in confidence and severely tested the Tops defence with some battering raids spurred on by the home crowd. They couldn't quite maintain field position for long enough for the score which might have taken the game into extra time. Topsham were able to turn over the ball at crucial times and closed out the game.
Although disappointed, many in the crowd agreed that The Chiefs had put up a very creditable performance against a side who could have quite easly gained promotion themselves from the division above. Dave Sansom, his coaching team and the players will have learned a great deal about what playing in Devon One next season will be like. There will be a need for greater accuracy under pressure and an ability to take a more limited number of chances. Nevertheless Argaum aren't too far away on this showing.
As Devon representative Geoff Simpson said at the presentation, Argaum had put on a great show in their staging of the game. Credit must go to all the volunteers for enabling the car parking, programme-selling, pitch-side refreshments and catering to go so smoothly. Hopefully this will the first of a new era of such events for the club.